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The Burnden Park Disaster: Remembering the 33

bp disasterWorse things have happened in football. We all know that this is not the biggest stadium crush that has happened. The Ibrox Park Disaster and then the Hillsborough Disaster both had higher death tolls, and because they were significantly more recent remain fresher in minds. All of this, I acknowledge. None of this justifies the fact that, except amongst Bolton fans, the Burnden Park Disaster is all but forgotten. The name isn't even familiar to most non-Bolton fans. This saddens and infuriates me. Thirty three people lost their lives that day, a day that should have been great for Bolton Wanderers. Hundreds more were injured. It was the worst stadium disaster to date. I'll never know what it was like to live through it. Maybe people were numbed by it's proximity to the Second World War, in which so many British Boys had died, including the club captain Harry Goslin. Maybe people didn't really know the depth of the tragedy. Maybe they reacted with the horror that I'm feeling right now. Regardless, it should be marked today. It should be treated with respect and reverence. Whatever happens, it should not be forgotten.

It was March 9, 1946 and Bolton were going into the second leg of the FA Cup quarter finals with a 2-0 lead against Stoke. The club had last been in the quarter finals in 1935, and they had then progressed to the semi's. In the 11 years between, the War had shaken the country. Life was put on hold for six years, and a reminder of this sat in the stadium as the Ministry of Supply still hadn't returned the Burnden Stand which was requisitioned in 1940. Fans came to the game in droves with good reason, the outlook for Bolton was good, it was at home, perhaps most of all, because it was the first FA Cup since the war. The official gate of the match was 65,000, the lowest estimates hold that there were another 2,000. The highest say that there were a total of 90,000 people in the ground. Whatever the case, these numbers dwarfed the highest attendance Burnden had seen that season at 43,000. The unavailability of Burnden Stand combined with the closing of some turnstiles meant that the crowd was surging into the Bolton End to gain entry and the situation quickly spiraled out of control. People were falling to the touchline and trying to climb back over the turnstiles to escape the press of the pure mass of people.

Play was only stopped to clear bodies from the touchline and was quickly resumed. The game continued for another 12 minutes, until the referee halted the game after speaking with a police officer. The teams came back on a half hour later, after the carnage had been partially cleared. Play was resumed and carried on til the final whistle, with no stop for halftime. No goals were scored that day and Bolton progressed to the semi-finals without 33 of their fans. The players and fans in other stands at the match did not know the extent of the disaster until the reports on the evening radio. A report commissioned by the Home Secretary claiming that similar disasters would happen again was compiled by Moelwyn Hughes, but none of his recommendations were put in place, and his predictions were tragically proven right.

Thankfully, football will probably never see a disaster like this again, although it would take another three disasters for actions to be taken to make stadiums safer. The pain and terror that the victims felt can never be known. The grief suffered by the families of those lost can never be recouped. The stain left on the history of a wonderful stadium and of football in general can never be removed, but nor should it be. The only thing we can do today 65 years on is remember with reverence the horrific events that day. So I implore you, read about the disaster, know the terrible accounts. Talk about it with anyone who will listen, your dad, girlfriend or boyfriend, the poor person who sits next to you on the bus on the way home. We proudly reminded ourselves and the football world of the achievements of Nat Lofthouse upon his death, and now it is important that we painfully recall the Burnden Park Disaster. Respect for your team is respect for it's history, the good and the bad. Don't forget the March 9, 1946. Don't forget the 33.

Read and Remember
From Vital Football
From Stoke
From a Spectator

WILFRED ADDISON Moss Side, Manchester.
FRED BATTERSBY (31) Atherton.
JAMES BATTERSBY (33) Atherton.
ROBERT BENTHAM (33) Atherton.
HENRY BIMSON (59) Leigh.
W BRAIDWOOD (40) Hindley.
FRED CAMPBELL (33) Bolton.
WINSTON FINCH Hazel Grove, Stockport.
JOHN FLINDERS (32) Littleborough.
WILLIAM HUGHES (56) Poolstock, Wigan.
FRANK JUBB Rochdale.
JOHN LIVESEY (37) Bamber Bridge, Preston.
MORGAN MOONEY (32) Bolton.
HARRY NEEDHAM (30) Bolton.
JOSEPH PLATT (43) Bolton.
SIDNEY POTTER (36) Tyldesley.
GRENVILLE ROBERTS Ashton-in-Makerfield.
RICHARD ROBEY (35) Barnoldswick.
THOMAS ROBEY (65) Billinge, Wigan.
T SMITH (65) Rochdale.
WALTER WILMOT (31) Bolton.
JAMES WILSON Higher Openshaw, Manchester